Monday, February 26, 2007

Eat it - Taco Rico Alton Rd. Miami Beach, FL

Taco Rico is quickly becoming one of our staples. It is by no means a place for formal dinning. If one is looking for fancy Mexican food look elsewhere. That is not to say that it is without merit, it is certainly far superior to its predecessor. It is also quite reasonable, especially when my friend Boden picks up the tab as he did on our most recent trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my enchilada, quesadillas, and flautas. Dishes also include refried beans and rice; but my brother would prefer that I avoid the former as evidenced in previous reviews. My one word of caution would be against coupling Taco Rico with too many cervezas.

Rico is particularly attractive for Flamingo residents, because of its location. Delicious, convenient, and economical, this is an excellent combination for us Whealth Watchers.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Don't Eat It - Barton G, 1427 West Ave., Miami Beach, FL 305-672-8881 (Why do I bother with the info when I'm telling you not to eat it?)

"Barton G can be summed up by saying the following: beautiful venue, stupid food."
-James Norton

If you're looking for a tourist trap rip-off with rude service, Barton G is the place for you. I know what you're thinking: "But Colin, how can the piss-poor service, with side order of 'tude, I normally receive on South Beach get any worse?" Barton G epitomizes the "I'm entitled to a huge tip because I work at a trendy restaurant and I really want to be a model/outsourcer to India/China and I wear big sunglasses and True Religion jeans" mentality that permeates Miami-Dade county.

Cocktails -

"Oh cool, there's a chocolate monkey on my martini glass." - my friend Dan
"Actually, that's a chimpanzee." - the busboy

My friend and PhD student (and bio major in college), Jeff, upon hearing this anecdote asked me "did it have a tail?" to which I replied "yes". Well, Jeff pointed out, and I double checked , that chimpanzees are not monkeys, and monkeys have tails, apes (gorillas and chimpanzees) do not, so not only was the busboy's reply rude, but it was incorrect. That's doubly insulting.

The Wine -

"We'll have the La Crema." - me
"May I suggest something a little better?" - our waiter

Uh, excuse me? Am I the customer in this situation? I would have left the restaurant at this point, had there not been out of town guests dining with us that evening. As seems to be the usual course of action at Barton G, the waiter suggested a $90 bottle of wine, when I had ordered one that merely cost $60. Tacky!

The Appetizers -

"Oh, you simply MUST try the popcorn shrimp." - everyone

The popcorn shrimp is an insult to one's intelligence. A small handful of breaded shrimp that would be better at Long John Silver's is presented ever so cleverly on...who'd have thunk it...popcorn! What creative genius came up with that one?

Overall we found the appetizers to be overpriced, long on show, and short on substance. The plates and trays on which the meals are served take up far more room on the table than is necessary, and so the feeling of having the contents of your wallet dumped out is heightened. Maybe that's one of the sensory experiences they are trying to pull off.

The Main Course -

I actually don't remember what I had. It was some sort of southwestern-style fish, and it was actually quite delicious, but the experience was so unpleasant that I don't recall enjoying it very much. It's irrelevant at this point.

The Dessert -

My brother, as he often does, asked the waiter for his recommendation, and guess what, he suggested the most expensive food item on the menu. Wow, I'm soooooo surprised. It was a chocolate fondue that cost maybe $85-90. I'm not 100% sure and the Barton G website doesn't list prices. I'm not bothering to put the link on this review.

Just before we asked for the check, our waiter was magically transformed into an attentive and polite individual. Amazing how that happened, hmmm...

You might just feel like the victim of a mugging at the end of your meal at Barton G. I think I'll end this one with some more James Norton words of wisdom:

"If I were you, I would definitely take the time to visit Hofbrau Haus. Have a big beer. Then go to Miss Yip's for dinner..."

But instead of "I would definitely take the time to visit Hofbrau Haus" insert "I would not visit Barton G" and instead of "Have [an expensive martini]" insert "don't set foot inside of Barton G".

Barton G. The Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Eat It - Croissants de France, 816 Duval St., Key West, FL 305-294-2624

I know exactly what you're thinking. How can a restaurant with a name about as banal as "American Cheeseburgers" obtain the coveted "Eat It" designation? I'll tell you why. That's the whole point of this blog, so listen up, or just read it silently to yourself. And I know the word "hamburger" is German, but they're American. Lighten up. You get the point of the analogy.

There were lots of surprises we encountered at this restaurant. At first glance at the sign and modest entrance, one would expect this to be a little bakery/cafe where you can get a coffee and baked good to go, with maybe a little round table and two uncomfortable padded chairs if you're lucky enough to find them unoccupied.

Mais, non non non! Ce n'est pas comme ca! That means "it's not like that" for all of you Philistines who haven't studied French. Croissants de France is a rather large restaurant, capable of handling the Sunday breakfast and brunch crowd. We were seated immediately, and served quickly and with a smile. Key West seems to have spoiled me.

Pictured above is, ironically, the Americano. I upgraded to the Americano with ham and bacon. I'm Cuban and we can't say no to pig products. It's in our DNA. This is the Americano description from the menu:

Open-faced butter Croissants layered with scrambled Eggs, lightly dusted with Paprika and Scallions served with our special Mustard Sauce on the side.

I would really like to eat that for breakfast everyday. Good thing I don't live in Key West. I would not be the sleek junior middleweight that I am (I stole that line from my brother, who is definitely NOT a junior middleweight).
As you can see from the photo, this is not what you'd call a "healthy meal" or something you should "eat regularly" or even "look at". You think buttering a croissant is redundant you say? If by "redundant" you mean "delicious" then I agree.

Also pictured above with my meal is a wonderful cafe au lait, served in a very large mug, just as in France. It was perfect.

Marguerite had a panino. It had basically the same ingredients as mine, but on grilled bread and without the bacon (which was the best either of us had ever tasted). She gobbled that baby up, I'll tell you what. I think by the time I snapped another photo, her plate was clean. I just want to point out that that is her right hand in the foreground. No reason, just you know, pointing it out.

In case you don't believe my description of how delicious the food was, I believe this photo speaks for itself. It appears that I am moaning "soooooo gooooood".

Eat It - Seven Fish, 632 Olivia St., Key West, FL 305-296-2777

Seven Fish is the kind of place that everyone likes. I have heard only positive things about it. A quick story to show what a class joint it is-

My girlfriend and I headed to Key West for the weekend after Valentine's Day, and I called well in advance for a reservation on Friday, 2/16, assuming it would be tough to get a table. When we arrived, there was no record of our reservation and I told the hostess that I had received confirmation by email and phone. She looked the list over once, and said "ok, come with me". She sat us immediately without making the slightest fuss. That is exactly what she should have done.

The wait staff is professional and courteous, and the service is conscientious and quick.

I have to tell you that I think the way to get the best value at Seven Fish is to order maybe three appetizers between two diners. I certainly didn't want to look cheap on my Valentine's dinner, but that would have been the smart play (short term, that is). The appetizers are large and cost between $8 and $9. We had the crab cake and the ceviche to start. They were too delicious to have only a few bites, and we rendered ourselves rather full by the time our entrees arrived.

Marguerite and I both ordered specials, and I have the feeling that the specials always sound so enticing at Seven Fish that you can't pass them up. She had wahoo with mango chutney and I had snapper in a light curry sauce. Just writing about those dishes is making me salvate. You just cannot go wrong with this restaurant. I recommend it to anyone visiting Key West.

The only negative thing I have to say about Seven Fish is that they don't have souvenir matches. I know people don't smoke much anymore, but c'mon, matches! That's one of my favorite aspects of eating out. Plus, if your roommate were my brother, you would want to have LOTS of extra matches lying around the house, you know, for the bathroom. Sorry, I don't want you to lose your appetite. But seriously, that dude drops some bombs.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Eat It - Miss Yip Chinese Cafe, 1661 Meridian Ave (off 17th St. & Lincoln Rd.) 305-534-5488

Boden, after(?) hot and sour soup, with Sean

As I sat at our table about a half hour into our meal with a frown, my friend and fellow grublogger, James Norton, looked at me and realized immediately what was the matter. I had nothing about which to complain.

James consoled me and pointed out that, although criticism is the best part about being a critic, a fair amount of my blog entry needn't be about the restaurant itself. What he said after that, I don't really remember, thanks to the fairly high number of beers I had consumed up to that point (including some delicious Tiger beers, which were a nice surprise to find on the beer menu).

Tiger Beer is, of course, Singaporean, but Miss Yip has a selection of beers from around Asia: Singha, Sapporo, Tsing Tao, to name a few.

I took a page from the Chinese and rudely left the table to get a shot at Buck 15, the bar that is located above Miss Yip. It's almost too easy to pass up. The bathrooms are shared between the restaurant and bar, so you just run up the stairs and grab a shot, sneak back to the table, and no one's the wiser...unless you announce to everyone that you're going to Buck 15 for a shot and invite people to come with you.

What did we eat, you ask? I thought you'd never! For starters, we ordered the Mama Yip dim sum platter, the pan fried pork dumplings, and the pan fried chicken dumplings. Boden got some soup or something, hot and sour, I believe, to go with his sour personality down at the end of the table. He didn't offer to share, and neither did we. He is only now learning about the deliciousness of the appetizers as he reads this review! All three were big hits. The dim sum tasted as good as the ones I had in Hong Kong, and the fried dumplings as good as any I have had during my travels around Asia. That's all true. Seriously.

The main courses were presented nicely, and the portions were adequate but not obscene, as is often the case at America's eateries. It's nice on a Saturday night not to feel guilty about wasting food, as the doggy bag is not an option when the dinner party is headed out to a bar or club afterward.

My favorite was the Mongolian Beef, Paul a.k.a. Mr. Miami's choice, most of which we ate when he left the table to visit the restroom (or was it Buck 15 for a jager bomb?!). That's the kind of thing you think is hilarious when you're drinking, but would be totally obnoxious when sober. I had the Kung Pao Chicken, a dish made famous during an episode of Seinfeld ("George likes his chicken spicy.").

Main courses run about $16 on average, and the entire meal (with tip) was about $37 a head. We had a lively group of 8, including a pregnant woman and a grad student, so that ain't bad. Service was very good. The food was brought to our table before we even had a chance to think about it, of course, I did run upstairs for another shot at Buck 15 between appetizer and main course...

Turns out we could have used doggy bags, since we didn't even leave the building after dinner and headed right up to Buck 15. DJ Foxx spun her usual mix of 80s dance classics and we hung from the rafters (they're actually joists).

Friday, February 9, 2007

Hofbrau Haus, Lincoln Road, South Beach

If, at conception, you were offered the chance to be born in another country other than your own, which one would you choose? Italy or France perhaps? Or possibly a beautiful island somewhere in the Caribbean?

One country you may not consider is Germany. But why not? What would it be like to be a German citizen? Not so good if you want to tell funny jokes and watch good television. And definitely not the place to be if you like a freshly waxed leg or armpit. However, despite these minor issues, there are many things that the country should be very proud of - it's wonderful ability to make cars, for one. It's culture too - I hear that Beethoven, Bach and Einstein were hugely successful in their respective areas.

But, of course, Germany's biggest gift to the world is it's beer. And the best part is, the whole country gets to enjoy the party. Here in the USA, our biggest holiday is thanksgiving. We get a day off on Thursday, and if you are lucky, somebody somewhere decides that you get Friday off work too. Brilliant! But is it? In Munich, they have Oktoberfest. Where, for two weeks, everyone drinks lots of beer, and falls off tables. That sounds like much more fun.

The country has also given us some imaginative food. Hamburgers for instance - contrary to popular belief, they are not made with ham at all, but beef!!! Who knew? In fact, they were actually brought to the USA by immigrants from Hamburg, Germany. This was obviously a huge success, because they invited their cousins from Frankfurt, and thus another staple of American cuisine is born.

It was the latter gastronomic experience that I had in mind when my wife and I sat down for a stein or two at the new Hofbrau Haus restaurant on Lincoln Road. Purporting to offer a traditional Teutonic eating and drinking experience, the decor immediately drew us away from the fantasy - it's appearance owed far more to it's predecessor, The Lincoln Road Cafe than it did to anything you will ever see in Germany, or for that matter, Europe.

But we didn't let that bother us, - the menu tempted us with a plethora of delicious looking sausages, schnitzels and soups which we could not wait to enjoy.

My wife started with the potato soup, which was a hearty concoction of potato, mushrooms and sausage. Nothing ground breaking, but better than my unexciting chicken broth. It was during this time that we debated the authenticity of our German dining experience. We couldn't work out the nationality of our waiter, so we asked him where he was from. Cuba, as it turned out. Which, for the uninitiated, is not in Alemania.

The main course was first frustrating. Apparently the chef is very insistent that you can not make any changes to the meals on the menu. Which is fine if you are dining at the Ritz, but Hofbrau Haus is certainly not that, which just makes it annoying.

To give the restaurant its due, the main courses were pretty good. We both enjoyed a selection of different bratwursts, frankfurters and sauerkraut. If it wasn't for what followed next, I would recommend these dishes wholeheartedly. In fact, we asked the waiter to box some of the things we hadn't eaten, and looked forward to sharing them with friends that we would see later.

But, as we waited for the check, we happened to look across to the large window at the front of the restaurant, where we saw what appeared to be some sort of giant bug, walking across the inside of the glass.

Appearances, sadly, were not deceptive, and as my wife screamed, and jumped out of her seat, I contemplated the damage that the sight of a huge cockroach can do to your opinion of a particular restaurant. We decided to not share the rest of our sausages.

If I were you, I would definitely take the time to visit Hofbrau Haus. Have a big beer. Then go to Ms Yips for dinner...

James Norton